Monitor Audio SoundFrame Review
- Discreet, stylish design
- Slim cabinets
- Sophisticated, powerful sound quality
- No table-top mounting option
- Review Price: £2772.50
- 87.5mm cabinet depth
- Wide choice of grilles and frames
- Inverted Dual Concentric drivers
- C-CAM and RST technology
- 250W subwoofer
SoundFrame is more than just a speaker system; it’s also a fashion accessory. The speakers’ super-slim dimensions make them easy to hang on the wall, and with a range of designer grille cloths they can also be used to decorate the room, just like hanging pictures on the wall.
These grilles come in a range of different patterns and colours that can be matched to your own décor, or you can opt for portraits of rock ‘n’ roll icons like Keith Richards, Alice Cooper, Slash and Thin Lizzie, snapped by famed photographer Ross Halfin.
But as you’d expect from a respected audiophile brand like Monitor Audio, SoundFrame is much more than just a pretty face. The same audio tech found in the company’s full-size speakers has been squeezed into these slender picture frame-sized enclosures, which means there should be plenty of substance behind the style.
We were sent a SoundFrame system comprising four SF1 speakers for the front and rear channels, a taller SF2 for the centre channel, and the Radius 370HD subwoofer, deemed to be a suitable bass partner for the SoundFrame system.
The speakers in our system are of the on-wall variety, with keyhole fixings on the back for easy mounting, but there are in-wall versions of each that come with pre-attached brackets for secure fitting inside a wall cavity. In both cases a gloss white, gloss black or paintable grille frame can be clipped onto the front to complete the look.
Pretty they may be, but the style is backed up by stunning build quality. Both the SF1 and SF2 are housed in a sealed box that measures just 87.5mm deep. Everything is amazingly solid and sturdy to the touch, making you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
The SF2 speakers measure 790(h) x 240(w)mm compared with the dumpier 539(h) x 389(w)mm dimensions of the SF1, which makes SF2 suitable for use as a centre speaker when mounted horizontally, or as front speakers placed either side of a larger TV.
Some speakers look better with their grilles off, but not SoundFrame’s. Without them, they sport a stark, industrial look, with light grey trims around the drivers, and a recessed panel at the bottom that houses the cable binding posts.
Inside this is a hole that allows you to feed the speaker cable through from behind and connect it to the terminals, which leaves everything looking nice and tidy when it’s fitted flush to the wall.
Obviously they look at their best when covered up by the grilles, and these come in a range of photographic designs (sunsets, flowers, pebbles, that sort of thing), illustrative patterns, more sedate colour schemes (sky/ocean blue, sandstone, grey and burgundy) and of course portraits of rock legends – all of which are incredibly tasteful
What’s more, the Radius 370HD subwoofer is quite possibly the most stylish we’ve encountered. That’s primarily due to the achingly gorgeous black lacquer finish, but the convenient top-mounted silver control panel and curved corners are the icing on the cake. Substantial silicone rubber feet guard against unwanted resonance.
The SoundFrame speakers feature the same driver technology that has made its full-sized speakers such a success, with a couple of twists that account for their slim on-wall profile.
The SF1 units feature a 165mm C-CAM mid/bass driver plus a 102mm IDC mid-range driver with a dual concentric 25mm C-CAM gold-dome tweeter. C-CAM means it’s made from ceramic coated aluminium/magnesium alloy, and the tweeter is gold anodised to a specific thickness to ensure ideal stiffness.
IDC, meanwhile, refers to the Inverted Dual Concentric midrange/tweeter module, which can be pivoted by up to 18° in order to direct the sound towards the listening position – particularly useful when fixed to the wall. Using this module the speakers are a three-way design, and because the module is set as far forward as possible it reduces the amount of diffraction compared with conventional two-way designs.
One final technological note concerns the mid/bass cone, which features Monitor Audio’s RST profile, a radial pattern of surface dimples that improve cone rigidity and reduce distortion, in turn paving the way for lighter and more responsive cones. Both the SF1 and SF2 achieve a frequency response of 55Hz to 35kHz, with 100W power handling.
Inside the R370HD subwoofer’s 18mm MDF cabinet is a 250W Class D amplifier and a downward-firing 10in ultra long throw C-CAM bass driver. On top you’ll find a volume dial and two different EQ preset buttons (optimised for music and video). Placing these frequently-used controls on top is a thoughtful move given that subs are often tucked away in hard to reach places.
There’s a wide range of controls on the back too, including a crossover frequency dial (40 – 120Hz), a low pass filter switch for LFE or stereo input selection and a phase switch, while connections include stereo/LFE RCA inputs and output for those who want to daisy-chain an additional sub.
Never mind comparing SoundFrame with other flatpanel speakers – these bad boys put many floorstanders to shame. Their sound quality is sensational, and leaves you wondering how they’re able to imbue movies with such an amazing sense of depth and authority given the slimness of the cabinets.
Spot the speaker…
The SF1s and SF2s boast power in spades and achieve an awe-inspiring sense of scale with action sequences. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than chapter 12 of Hellboy II and the epic battle between Hellboy and the Forest God – effects thunder around the room with frenetic energy and shedloads of power, tinkling glass sounds just like real tinkling glass, while bangs and explosions are thick and hearty. It’s mesmerising stuff.
But what’s most impressive is how smooth it all sounds. Effects glide around the soundstage like butter on a hot knife, high frequencies never grate (even the screech as the Elemental flings a car at a helicopter) and there’s a general fluidity and sophistication to the sound that justifies the relatively high price tag.
Also impressive is the sense of cohesion across the whole system. Each speaker is perfectly matched to the others, and even the Radius 370HD sub – the nominal black sheep of this family – seems tailor made for the SoundFrame speakers, lending tight, intense yet beautifully integrated bass.
Add to that the rich and distinctive voice reproduction, insightful detail and silky music playback and you’ve got a real winner on your hands, better even than the KEF T205 system we reviewed earlier this year. It goes to show that you don’t have to compromise on sound quality just because you want a chic, discreet speaker system.
Monitor Audio’s SoundFrame series is not only innovative and stylish but also a wonderful performer, delivering a logic-defying sense of scale and power that puts many full-sized speakers to shame. The range of grille options is a great idea, bringing with it a sense of fun, while build quality is superb. Yes as a 5.1 system it adds up to quite a hefty sum, but if you want a system that blends seamlessly with your décor then SoundFrame is money well spent.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9